Monday, 7 February 2011

Film Review: Rope (1948) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock


Plot Summary:
"Brandon and Philip are two young men who share a New York apartment. They consider themselves intellectually superior to their friend David Kentley and as a consequence decide to murder him. Together they strangle David with a rope and placing the body in an old chest, they proceed to hold a small party. The guests include David's father, his fiancée Janet and their old schoolteacher Rupert from whom they mistakenly took their ideas. As Brandon becomes increasingly more daring, Rupert begins to suspect." (Needham)


Alfred Hitchcock's 'Rope' is afilm adaptation of the 1929 play also called 'Rope' by Patrick Hamilton.In the film Hitchcock takes a most daring take in regards to shooting and editing; that is to make the film appear more of a 'film play' by hiding all the cuts and keeping the shots continuous, making it appear as one 80 minute long take.

Fig 2
The only room that the film takes place in

The move to make such an 'unedited' film was not well received at the time as Bosely Crowther of the New York Times writes "And, with due regard for his daring (and for that of Transatlantic Films), one must bluntly observe that the method is neither effective nor does it appear that it could be. For apart from the tedium of waiting or someone to open that chest and discover the hidden body which the hosts have tucked away for the sake of a thrill, the unpunctuated flow of image becomes quite monotonous." (Crowther, 1948).

Despite it's unpopularity in the 1940's, more contemporary audience's have understood the trick and appreciate it for what it is, as Vincent Canby, again a reviewer for the New York Times wrote in his review "It's not that "Rope" doesn't eventually take sides... "Rope" has taken in the events of the story in the manner of a cat that, ignored by the guests, ambles freely around the apartment - the film's single set - appearing to be bored, completely uninterested in the action, but not missing a trick." (Canby, 1984). This is the view of the film that I agreed with. Although Crowther has a point, at time's the length of shot does take it's toll, the story and suspense keeps the film alive. The way the camera moves in and around the set gives the viewer a sense of being a 'fly on the wall', or just a 'fly'. The voyouristic feeling makes what is happening much more chilling that it would otherwise be, watching the two young men propagate Nietzsche's superman theory.

The other force driving the suspense and keeping the film from becoming stagnant is the actors; specifically the two murderers, Brandon and Phllip, and their old teacher Rupert. John Dall plays the character of Brandon perfectly as a daring, charming and carismatic elitist host of the party whilst his partner in crime, Phillip, is portrayed by Farley Granger as his much more guilt ridden. Phillip's guilt starts to make his calm facade crack during the party giving a real suspense over when the mask will fail completely and comes clean to Rupert.

Fig 3
The suspense is built up mostly between Brandon, Phillip and their ex headmaster Rupert

Rupert, is Brandon and Phillip's prep-school master, the one who first sowed the seeds that lead to the murder because of his belief that intellectual superiors should have the right to kill the inferior. He is shrewd, cunning and above all amazingly entertaining to watch dissect the situation; he picks up on all the little trip ups, tense moments and heated exchanges between Brandon, Phillip and the rest of the guests. The reviewers at Variety magazine wrote about James Stewart's perfrmance in their appraisla of the film "James Stewart, as the ex-professor who first senses the guilt of his former pupils and nibbles away at their composure with verbal barbs, does a commanding job."(Variety Staff, 1947) I think the effectiveness of his part is boosted by the lack of editing, every time that Ruper is in the shot you just know that he is pondering over what is happening, waiting for it all to fall into place and making calculated incisions into the other character's social faces; it is much akin to watching a great white shark approaching some seals, it dives deep under its prey and waits for the oppertune moment before striking.

Fig 4
Rupert (3rd from left) is always looking, always calculating

Overall an awesome watch, there's suspense and comical wit abound. In fact I'd probably watch it again just to see Rupert's parts...
Rupert Cadell: Brandon has told me a lot about you.
Janet Walker: Did he do me justice?
Rupert Cadell: Do you deserve justice?


Fig1. Poster for 'Rope' 1948 [digital image] at (Accessed 7/2/2011)

Fig 2 Photo on the set of 'Rope' 1948 [digital image] at (Accessed 7/2/2011)

Fig 3 Movie still from 'Rope' 1948 [digital image] at 7/2/2011)

Fig 4 Movie still from 'Rope' 1948 [digital image] at (Accessed 7/2/2011)


Canby, Vincent. Review of 'Rope' for the New York Times, archived online. Published June 1984 (Accessed 7/2/2011)

Crowther, Boseley. Review of 'Rope' for the New York Times, archived online. Published August 1948 (Accessed 7/2/2011)

Needham, Col. Plot summary taken from, (Accessed 4/3/2011)

Variety Staff, Review of 'Rope' for Variety Magazine archived online. Published December 1947 (Accessed 7/2/2011)

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